Award Winning Wood Carvings—From Birds to Boats
From Lunch Projects in the Basement to Professional Carving
By Lynn Preston (daughter)
Born 10 months before Black Tuesday’s stock market crash, Sheridan Alois Preston came into the world on January 18, 1929. He was born and raised in Milwaukee by his parents, Estelle Jakubiak and Alois (Ptak) Preston, both 1st generation Polish immigrants. Sheridan lived in the south side of Milwaukee, where his father, an auto mechanic, gave him a corner of the basement to tinker and build things. He also worked with his father in the garage, Al’s Service Station, fixing cars.
Sheridan joined the Air Force on February 17, 1947, right after he turned 18, and was stationed at Chanute Air force Base in Illinois. Sargent Preston completed the prescribed course of instruction in Air Training Command, specializing in airplane power plant mechanics and jet engines.
At Keesler Field in Mississippi, Private 1st Class Preston completed training as a primary airplane engine mechanic. He knew airplanes inside and out, and this inspired his later building of model planes.
Sheridan served his time and was released in February of 1950. He went back to Milwaukee and married Gloria Bilicki in December of that year. Then, Sheridan started his career at Hotpoint where he inspected incoming Air Force property and equipment.
His superior described him as, “precise and highly technical whenever a serious problem arises and/or whenever a responsible decision is required of him.” He left Hotpoint in 1960 to take a job in industry at Centralab, the Electronics Division of Globe-Union. He became the Manager of Equipment Maintenance Engineering. From 1964-1968 he worked as the Manager of Manufacturing Engineering for Capacitors.
Teaching Engineering and Tool Use
While at Hotpoint and Globe Union, Sheridan also went to school at Milwaukee School of Engineering. He became a teacher at the school, giving lectures for a variety of classes including hand-power tools, gas and arc welding, engineering and plant layout, and material handling.
On March 1, 1969, he terminated his job at Globe-Union to take a job a Milwaukee Chaplet in New Berlin. The family had moved out of Milwaukee in 1967 into a duplex in the town of Brookfield. Sheridan was waiting for a brand new house to be built on property that he and his wife, Gloria had purchased years before.
The property had a couple of wooded acres with Poplar Creek running along the back edge. Having always wanted to be an architect, Sheridan worked to help design a beautiful house, and built a gazebo in the backyard.
At Milwaukee Chaplet he went from being a Manufacturing Manager to Executive Vice President of Milwaukee Chaplet and Canadian Fanner Co. in Ontario, Canada. He retired from Chaplet in 1984, and then he and Gloria moved to North Carolina for a couple of months, finally settling in the Greenville area of South Carolina in 1986.
Basement Shop Projects Lead to Bird Carvings—First as a Hobby, Then as a Business
During his last years of work at Chaplet, Sheridan would come home from lunch and work on projects in his basement shop. He built reproductions of cannons, airplanes and ships. He restored old woodworking tools that had belonged to his dad and grandfather, and restored an old corn planter.
Sheridan designed and built stained glass lamp shades, and in 1983 he started sculpting and carving wild fowl as a hobby. When asked why he started carving, Sheridan said he needed something to do in retirement. It became a full-time business called, “Sculptures and Designs in Wood.”
Preston created his sculptures with blocks of wood using power tools for carving, a high-powered grinder for texturing, and a wood burning technique to make the feathers. They are painted with acrylic paints. One decoy can take 50 to 100 hours. He made a life-size Canadian Goose which took 200 hours.
Preston noted, “My interest in working with wood began with building model ships.” Then he started carving decoys. With regard to those, he said, “I found I really enjoyed trying to duplicate nature to the finest detail. When it looks as if it could fly, it’s finished.”
Puzzles and Wooden Santas for the Kids
Sheridan also carved puzzles and toys for his children and grandchildren, as well as designing and making chip-carved plates. Every Christmas for about 10 years, he made a different series of Santas for Gloria and each of his three children. Some were carved from Cypress knees that he had collected in Mississippi, and the figures emerged from the forms of the knees.
Award Winning Bird Carvings
Sheridan showed his sculptures in many shows, and between October 1985 and April 1995, he won over 30 awards for his bird carvings. He won first place in the Badger State Carvers Show, 1985, for his Canadian Goose carving; first place in the Louisiana Wildfowl and Collectors Show, 1989, for his Blue Bill carving; and an honorable mention in the 1986 World Champion Wildfowl Carving Competition at Ocean City, Maryland for his Snipe.
There were 850 carvers and a total of 2,037 birds entered in the 1986 World competition! Sheridan also won in the novice category since he had just started carving 3 years earlier.
Preston also shared his knowledge with other carvers. He started a carving club in South Carolina and taught carving at Greenville Tech. Some of his students have gone on to win at “World.”
In addition to being a great carver, Preston was also a great record keeper. Each of his carvings has a wood-burned number, signature, and date on the bottom. Some also include a title. He has a book with all of his carvings documented, beginning with #1000 Bufflehead, 8/1/83, to #1256 Santa Cypress Knee, 12/20/10.
Unfortunately, Sheridan Preston suffered a major stroke in 2008; which made it really hard to do the fine carving that he loved. Being a perfectionist, anything less than perfect was not really an option. He attempted a few things, but gave up carving and ship building in December of 2010.
We regret to inform that Sheridan Preston passed away on August 11, 2016. We thank him for his commitment to fine craftsmanship, and will continue to preserve his legacy as a master craftsman.
View more photos of Sheridan Preston’s award winning wood carving.